Friday, February 17, 2017

Book review: "Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Frightful Destinations" by Olivier Le Carrer

You know how people talk about having "wanderlust"? These places will fix that.
Or how people have bucket lists for places they want to travel? This is the opposite of that.

In this lovely formatted, pleasure to hold in your hands type of book, Mr Le Carrer takes us to places all around the world that we would only want to visit from the comfort of our living rooms.  Some places we can't visit anymore like:

- The ancient city of Carthage where pits have been discovered that contain "twenty thousand funerary urns, mostly of young children". Children offered as human sacrifices.

-The Sundra Strait, which is still there, but it looks different then it did in 1883 when a massive volcanic eruption killed tens of thousands of people and created "the tsunami that lapped the planet three times over".

There are places that you absolutely can still visit like (but you shouldn't):

- The Bermuda Triangle, which I feel like I don't even need to describe because you know the stories

- The city of Nuremburg where Hitler had grand plans for his 1000 year Reich. (Though in a moment of "oh hell yes! Take that you bastard Nazis" the building that used to house the SS barracks now houses the High Commission of Refugees.)

-Or the place in far, far, far northern Russia where there's a whole bunch of nuclear submarines, still with their payloads bobbing and rusting and decaying in the cold waters. Do you trust that none of them are leaking? I don't. I think Russia's got some 3 eyeballed fish, a la the Simpsons up there.

Not only was this a beautiful looking book, the writing was elegant and kind of lovely considering the ocassionally gruesome subject matter. The short chapters made it easy, fast reading and a good book that you could pick up and set down on busy days. This was right up my weirdo alley and I wish there were 15 more books just like this. 4 out of 5 stars.



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Monday, February 13, 2017

Book review: "Splendid Slippers: A Thousand Year of Erotic Tradition" by Beverley Jackson

You're probably thinking, uh Wesley? Erotic tradition of shoes? I don't understand. Are we talking about plastic high heeled platforms? Erotic shoes? Wha?

You know what, I wish we were talking about stripper shoes, but you know what we are talking about instead? Mutilation of children as young as 3, and the people that did this to them? Their friends and relatives. We'll be talking about the tradition of foot binding in China.

So it's going to be more talking about bones breaking than....let's say...Quentin Tarantino sexual foot fetish but we will cover both.

Image result for that escalated quickly

I know Ron. I know.

So let's talk about how this book got on my TBR. It was mentioned in one of the first episodes I ever listened to of one of my favorite podcasts, Stuff You Missed in History Class. The episode was graphic and interesting and eye opening. I just assumed that foot binding was something the aristocracy did to be like "hey, look at my wife. She doesn't have to work because I'm so rich so she's got these tiny ass feet and boy aren't I rich". But I figured there was more to it than that and I listened to the episode and I was right. This book was mentioned several times and I finally got it from the library. I'm going to be honest with you. If you're like, wow that sounds like an interesting book but I don't want to actually read it, listen to the podcast. (But you'd be missing out on all of the pictures of the crazily embroidered shows which would be a mistake!).

I'm going to broadstroke the process of footbinding because it's gruesome and gross and sad. It usually started for girls between the ages of 3 and 5 because the bones in their feet hadn't really developed and it was cartillagey yet. There were a couple of ways that the foot could be broken to achieve different types of bound feet, but no matter what you usually ended up walking on the tops of your toes. The ideal length of a foot was no more that 3-ish inches.The bones would need to be rebroken several times and the bindings were wrapped very tightly to keep the feet in place. I either didn't read it or just tried to gloss over it but I don't remember what they actually used to break the bones and I don't want to know. The chances of this going really badly and leading to infection and who knows what other medical problems would be really high. Though, most women would risk infection and death than to have their foot amputated if something did actually go wrong.

A couple more facts:

- There'd be Christian orphanages and they would allow the practitioners of foot binding to come in to the orphanages and bind the young girls feet, otherwise NO marriage prospects

-As you can imagine, having to hobble along on tiny 3 inch feet lead to almost universal back and spine problems for these women.

-If you were being trained as a young boy to be an actor and it seemed that you were going to be doing ladies parts (like how in Shakespeare's time men would often play the women's roles) they would get their feet bound to be more authentic.


The shoes that these women would wear were intricately embroidered and considered prized possessions. Many men also considered them HIGHLY erotic just to see them, and often women would pin their shoes to their clothing so no man could just push them down and snatch off their shoes and make off with them.

When a woman (I should say young girl, because let's be honest, that's what it was) would get married she would have a very special pair of red shoes. On her wedding night she would leave them by the bed, and put pornographic pictures in them for her husband to find, and then after viewing them together they would consummate their marriage. (Though it's worth noting here that only VERY rarely would a man see his wife's unbound feet. Probably something to do with the terrible smell that could be a problem and because of how gruesome it looked. Women would wear very soft, nonrestrictive shoes to bed). 

I'm just going to copy this sentence from the book "There is said to have been a special training manual for prostitutes which detailed in great variety how to use their feet during sex".(Basically what you're thinking is what happened).  Also, there seemed to be a lot of drinking games with the prostitutes involving their shoes. Like, basically beer pong with teeny shoes. So much drinking alcohol out of tiny shoes, but they were basically the size of a shot class so...

So, just to put a pin in the feet fetish section, bound feet played a HUGE part in getting a good husband, having sex with said husband, and keeping harmony in the marriage. Which is funny because I don't think my husband could pick any of my shoes out of a line up.


This is already a hella long review so I will just say that if you are interested in cultural differences, women's history, pictures of tiny shoes, and have questions about bound foot porn (because that's a thing, please don't google that at work) this book has all that and more. This book kept me intrigued, but it mainly made me feel sad for these generations of poor hobbled women who could barely walk without assistance.



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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book review: "The Bear and the Nightingale" by Katherine Arden

A book set in dark, cold Russia set in a world where the line between everyday life and the folkloric tales is smudged away. 

The setting of this book is truly one of the main characters. I'm so glad that I read this book in winter, the impact of this book would not be the same if you read this on a beach somewhere I think. The Russia of this book is cold and dark, with dark foreboding forests and squat, small villages.

The story centers around Vasilisa; the youngest girl of her land holding noble family. There is something different about her, maybe having something to do with the fact that her mother and her grandmother were always accused of having some magical or at least strange tendencies.  There's no denying that Vasilisa is different. The spirits that live in the forest, in their home, in their stables and even in the village bathhouse are all obvious to her. She talks to them and brings them food.

Upheaval comes twice in short order to Vasilia's life. Her mother died minutes after giving birth, so her father after a few years decides to go to Moscow to find a new bride. The czar basically forces him to marry a certain woman with noble blood...but who also sees the same things that Vasilia sees but instead of "oh these are just little magical beings who have been a part of this already old place for a very long time" she sees "DEMONS!". This gets even worse when she leaves the city for the country.  She's a very pious woman, and so she makes sure that a new priest follows her shortly after she leaves for the countryside. This new priest immediately feels that Vasilia is (somehow, simultaneously) alluring, frightening and  repulsive to him. Lots of mixed feelings there.

With the new priest comes big changes to the townspeople who are encouraged to disregard their superstitious ways. This means the little spirits that protect that village and it's occupants are weakened enough that something evil is able to find it's way in........

I liked this book. I like folklore stuff, I like magical realism stuff, I have a well documented weird obsession with Russia here on this blog. I feel like it maybe went a little of the rails at the end, but overall a very good book with interesting characters. Snuggle under a blanket and read this book!



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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Book Review: "Not Just Jane: Rediscovering Seven Amazing Women Who Transformed British Literature" by Shelley DeWees

I will say straight off of the bat that I've never been able to get into Jane Austen. I've tried. The horribleness of Mrs Bennett was enough to "nope" me out of there pretty quick. I always tell myself I should try again but then all the books on my TBR are like "choose me! choose me!" and I'm like "yeah, all of you get in the library requests. No Jane Austen right now."

So if, maybe, you find yourself thinking "I want a kinda obscure British woman author who SHOULDN'T be obscure and is kinda in the same time period and what have you" this book would be a great guide.

OR

If you are all amped up on girl power right now, and want to keep the empowering women homefires burning this would be a great way to do so.

Here's some quick bullet points:

-I like Samuel Taylor Coleridge as a poet, but he's basically a turd as a human. When his daughter, Sara Coleridge who is one of the 7 featured ladies, was born while he was away canoodling with his mistress. What was sad about Sara is that she eventually becomes a drug addict like her very distant father.

-Dinah Mulock Craik was my favorite of the women profiled. Honestly, maybe because she was one of the few who still got a happy ending on her terms.

  - This will come as no surprise to people familiar with the time period but it was HARD getting divorces so a lot of times these ladies lived separate from their loutish husbands who still then had rights to their earnings from their publications

-The French Revolution factored into some of these ladies lives WAY more than I thought it would.

-Did you know that some people thought "female hysteria" was caused by the uterus wandering willy nilly thorough the women's body?

 HOW WOULD THAT EVEN HAPPEN?




via GIPHY


If you are or are not a Jane Austen fan, it doesn't matter. If you're looking for some talented ladies who put up with more than their share of garbage to do their chosen profession this will round out your TBR nicely. Recommended!



Friday, January 20, 2017

First Friday Four - Favorite TED talks so far (Technically third Friday Four, come on you guys know how this goes.)

Welcome to First Friday Four! It took me a longer time than most to get into TED talks but just in case you are behind the times like me, here's my four favorite TED talks!


This talk has made it's way through a lot of my family and we talk about it so much as to be nerdskis. Shout out to my city too!




Architecture and death together? Yes.





I have power posed in the bathroom at work, I will not lie. Also, wear your seatbelt! Hat tip to L/E guest poster and friend for the heads up on this. She reviewed Amy's book for All Lady July in 2016.





This TED talk made me happy cry several several times. The joy of wonder that books can bring you. Also I MUST got to the time travel store and the pirate supply store. MUST. #Randolph




Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book Review: "The Guineveres" by Sarah Domet

Four girls, all coincidentally named Guinevere, end up at a convent. They have each been left their by their parents for different reasons (which we find out later, which is good because I was going to be ANGRY if we did not get backstories). They all bond together immediately and spend their days talking about what their lives will be like once they are allowed to leave at 18 (or earlier, if any of their escape plans would go right.)

Their lives are pretty routine: class, mass, confession, some free time, chores, bad food, lights out. Then there are some new patients in the sick ward that changes the girls lives. This book gives you: teenage girl fights, big questions about love and God, the wonderfulness of great friendships, the general horror of being a teenager whose body is changing, and (IMHO) more than a few cases of undiagnosed mental illnesses.

Some reviewers criticize the girls for their "mindless drivel". I think that these girls who: have not much life experience (and what they have is not considered well balanced or "normal"), don't have any real safe relationships with adults where they can ask them personal questions, and have a lot of time to ruminate on things during hours of prayer and church services would talk pretty much exactly that way. Also, they are teenagers. Mostly they won't be discussing Shakespeare.

I thought this book was full of well fleshed out and realistic characters, believable scenarios, in an easy to follow narratives. I give this book a 3.5 stars out of 5. Tip of the hat to T from Traveling with T who a couple of months ago hosted a chat with the author and got this book on my radar.


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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Book Review: "Spaceman: An Astronaut's Unlikely Journey to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe" by Mike Massimino

I kind of igured that if you ended up as an astronaut that was something that you decided at the age of like, 6 and then spent your whole life dedicated to getting to that goal. I think some people that is absolutley the case. Mike Massimino - "Mass" - was less like that. He had a fascination with space but then as he grew older fell into different interests until it was ignited in him again during college. What he couldn't have known was that the path that he was on (studying engineering and how humans interact with machines) was actually just what he needed to catch the interest of NASA. Which is not to say things were easy.

He was in good shape, good mental health, fit well personality wise that they were looking for but....bad eyes. And it's not like he's a pilot. He's a payload specialist. So in the years before LASIK he worked with doctors to correct his eyes in nonsurgical ways. Through practice and training he corrected his eyesight enough to get in the range of what NASA would accept. High stress!

I think that Mass loved the science, and being in space but the feeling that I get from the book is that he loved the family aspect of NASA the most. The camraderie and the team mentanlity really appealed to him and he needed to lean on that a few times with bumps in his perosnal life.


Also, if you're a Big Bang Theory fan you may recognize Mass as the American astronaut that Howard goes to space with. He started as a science advisor for the show and then they're like...hey....so.....actor?







This was also a well timed read for me because I read it shortly after John Glenn's death and I needed a little space in my life.

A good, easy to read book that is less snark and more science than others that I have read by other astronauts. Though there is certainly room in my reading life for both types!




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I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books